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Lines in the Sand (Western Sahara)

As part of Lines in the Sand project a journalist and the author of 'Endgame in the Western Sahara', Toby Shelley, was interviewed by Year 8 students from Langdon Park school via email.

Their questions and Toby's answers are found below.

Hi we are Dee and Danielle and these are our questions :

  • Are women treated equally or are they treated differently because of their sex if so do you have an examples?
  • Do women have a say in how the country is run, do you have any examples of this?


Dee and Danielle, Good question. In the refugee camps where about half of the Sahrawis live the women played the greatest part in organising the lives of the people. They ran the schools and hospitals and food distribution systems. They did not just do the physical work, they also ran the committees that organised all these things at a local level. That was between 1975 and 1991.

After 1991 things began to change a bit because there was an end to the fighting and many men came back to the refugee camps from the front line and looked for other things to do. To some extent they replaced women.

Some women are quite happy about this, saying they had enough of humping sacks of grain about or building mud houses. But others feel they have been edged out a bit, particularly in some of the organising roles in the camps.

The Sahrawi women in the camps are certainly more equal with men than in many other parts of the world but they are still not properly represented in the government.

In the areas of the Western Sahara controlled by Morocco, Sahrawi women are involved in protesting in support of political prisoners and demanding rights for the Sahrawis. There is an interesting contrast between Sahrawi women and Moroccan women. Sahrawi women are much more able to run their own lives. For example, they have always been able to demand a divorce and then re-marry.

This relatively greater freedom is historic. I had the privilege of meeting a very old woman who fought alongside her husband on her own camel in battle against the French in the 1950s.

I hope this helps.